The human symbol of the festival’s rebirth is surely Carlo Lizzani, director of the review from 1979 to 1982, who succeeded in the arduous task of restoring the festival to its former glory.
The festival shines, as always with a wide range of films, the presence of the retrospective, dedicated to writers, directors, producers and important movements, and with new "Workshop" sessions dedicated to study and research and "Noon-Midnight" spectacular films, like the first film in the Indiana Jones series, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), both by emerging film genius Steven Spielberg, as well as the second episode of the original trilogy of Star Wars by George Lucas, The Empire Strikes Back, directed by Irvin Kershner (1980), Heaven’s Gate by Michael Cimino (1982), the horror classic Poltergeist by Tobe Hooper (1982), and remakes of old classics and eccentric films. All these initiatives are born in the mind of the critic Enzo Ungari, collaborator of Lizzani, using an effective formula, modeling international best practices of past years.
In 1980, after a long pause, festival becomes competitive once again and awards a pair of Golden Lions, ex aequo to French director Louis Malle, with Atlantic City, and American John Cassavetes, with Gloria.
Venice plays a very important role in the world-wide affirmation of the new German film style: in 1981 Margarethe Von Trotta, the first woman to win a Golden Lion, astonishes the jury with Anni di piombo, while Wim Wenders is awarded the following year for Lo stato delle cose. In addition, there is the serial documentary Berlin Alexanderplatz by Rainer Werner Fassbinder who enjoys great success in 1980. Two years later, in 1982 a few months after the death of the director, there is a posthumous presentation of his last film, the very controversial, Querelle. Even though it gets favorable reviews, it is not awarded the top prize, splitting the jury and triggering lively debate.
The festival lives in its golden moment, after the dark period of the 1960’s. A tribute to the festival is its capacity to provide visibility for first works of directors that are destined to be great in the coming years, allowing them to assert themselves as distinguished producers of contemporary film. Among these, the young Emir Kusturica, winner of the Golden Lion for Best First Work in 1981 with Sjecas li se, Dolly Bell? (Do You Remember Dolly Bell?), and Peter Greenaway, who the following year presented, The Draughtsman’s Contract, a film that will bring notoriety to itself.
Also Italian film seems to be at the forefront of a "generational reciprocation": the festival presents films by relatively new directors, like Nanni Moretti, Gianni Amelio, Marco Tullio Giordana, Franco Piavoli, Paolo Benvenuti.
In 1983, direction of the festival passes into the hands of Gian Luigi Rondi, who moves away from the previous line of thought, returning, this time victorious, after the sad resignations of 1972. He molds the foundation for a better organized festival, coordinating the sections and giving space to the masters of cinema from the past to the present.
The international jury is only compromised of directors, in accordance with Rondi’s plan to create a "festival by the directors, for the directors". Jury members are directors that emerged in the fabulous 60’s, and Bernardo Bertolucci is named chairman. Golden Lion winners are Vince Jean-Luc Godard with Prénom Carmen (First Name: Carmen), then in 1984 Krystof Zanussi with Rok spokojnego slonca (Year of the Quiet Sun), in 1985 Agnès Varda withSans toit ni loi (Vagabond), and in 1986 Eric Rohmer with Le rayon vert (Summer).
During these years Venice hosts many other great films, not prizewinners but those simply outside the competition selection, like Zelig by Woody Allen, E la nave va (And the Ship Sails On) by Federico Fellini, Heimat by Edgar Reitz, the cyberpunk Blade Runner by Ridley Scott, dated 1983 and the gangster movie Once Upon a Time in America by Sergio Leone (1984).
In 1984 the International Week of the Critic is created, an initiative sponsored by members of the National Syndicate of Italian Film Critics, which is dedicated exclusively to first and second works.
Named in 1987, the 14th director of the festival, is the journalist and film critic for Rome’s daily paper Il Messaggero (The Messenger), Guglielmo Biraghi, already director of the Festival of Taormina. His mandate, through five editions, stands out for continuing the search to hunt for directors of new and unusual works, reflecting Biraghi’s taste and passion for travel and various cultures. Already the first edition under the guidance of the new director has in competition an Indian film, as well as a Lebanese, a Swiss, a Norwegian, a Korean and a Turk film.
A most extraordinary "milestone" occurs in 1989: Biraghi will present O Recado das Ilhas by Ruy Duarte of Carvalho, first film of the Island of Cape Verde to be introduced at an international film festival.
The new formula, characterized by a lean and driven program, is appreciated by those who had supported the nomination of Biraghi and the first festival under his direction rewards a veteran, Louis Malle, with Au revoir les enfants (Goodbye, Children), screened side-by-side with "newly discovered", directors like Carlo Mazzacurati and David Mamet, as well as a number of great films presented outside the competition, such as The Untouchables by Brian De Palma and The Dead by John Huston.
In 1988 the festival is enriched with two new and important sessions, "Horizons" and "Night", and with the "Special Events", such as the screening of The Last Temptation of Christ, one of the most controversial films by Martin Scorsese. The film, based on apocryphal gospels, is received as a scandal by religious groups in America and also in Italy, even before its appearance in Venice; the film is screened as usual in a movie theater, but with heavy security, and the press conference in which the director will explain his reasons for including it in the review will be packed and also have additional precautions in place.
The edition of 1988 touts the discovery of Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar and presents to the world one of the most successful comedies, A Fish Named Wanda by Charles Chricton, as well as Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, a splendid mix of live and animated characters directed by Robert Zemeckis. The Golden Lion goes to La leggenda del santo bevitore (The Legend of the Holy Drinker) by Ermanno Olmi.
1989 sees the triumph of Krzysztof Kieslowski and of his Dekalog (Ten Commandments): screened one episode per day, the films polarize the interest of the press, Italian and foreign, and of the public. In addition to Kieslowski, also in the spotlight is Nanni Moretti, thanks to the controversial Palombella rossa (Red Wood Pigeon), excluded from the official review, but presented during the Week of the Critic, where it gets great reviews.
The third title of the Indiana Jones series, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, also directed by Steven Spielberg, receives great success, thanks also to the skillfulness of the two protagonists, Harrison Ford and Sean Connery.
The top prize of this festival goes to Taiwan film Beiqing chengshi (A City of Sadness) by Hou Hsiao-Hsien, which for the first time focuses the spotlight on the little known Eastern cinema, destined to explode in the next decade, thanks to the numerous awards from the Venice Film Festival.